Every business needs an effective customer communications (‘comms’) strategy.
How will you reach out to potential customers? How will you engage with existing clients? How do you keep them interested in your offerings, without being a nuisance? And how do you make their experience of dealing with you as pleasant and easy as possible?
Your comms strategy comprises all of these things and more.
Tips for a successful communications strategy
Your goal is to make your communications with customers as seamless as possible.
Clients should find all their interactions with you to be a quick, easy and above all positive experience.
Every positive communications experience reinforces their good opinion of you, whereas just one negative experience can damage you in their eyes forever.
Here are the basic questions to address when designing your comms strategy.
1. Who is the target of your communications?
First work out whom you are trying to reach.
This may be a single narrow audience, several distinct audiences, or a very broad group of people.
2. What are the best ways to contact your audience(s)?
Different audiences may need to be approached in different ways and through different channels.
For example, business customers may be accessible through LinkedIn, whereas consumers may be using other social media channels – a younger audience preferring Instagram perhaps, while older demographics use Facebook, and so on.
Know where your customers hang out and speak to them in their own language.
3. How will your customers contact you?
This is similar to the question above.
Customers may contact you for a variety of reasons, sometimes to complain but also to enquire about your products, place orders, discuss your services and generally provide feedback.
Ensure that you have a presence in their preferred media channels, as well as having channels that are easily accessible to all (such as phone and live chat).
4. How should you communicate?
Communication is not just marketing (though the two overlap).
Not every communication is a selling opportunity, and you may alienate your customers if that is all you ever do.
Instead, start and continue a conversation with them, share things of interest to them, show interest in them, and cultivate a mutual respect.
The elements of your communications strategy
A strong and effective comms strategy will aim to strengthen communications in every party of your business, both externally and internally.
You will want to use many if not all of the following channels and media:
- Social media
- Content publishing (e.g. blogs, articles, videos)
- Direct mail
The phone is often still the first point of contact for many people, and usually the favourite method if there is a problem that needs resolving quickly.
Having strong phone communications in place is therefore one of the best ways to earn customer trust.
Here are the key points to remember.
- Make the best first impression. If you’re expecting a lot of callers, it’s worth investing in a good automated answering system. Callers can connect to the right person without delay, and you’ll come across as efficient, friendly and professional.
- Cut waiting times. Everybody hates waiting on the phone. Choose an answering system that tells people their position in the queue and/or the estimated waiting time. In addition to your automated answering service, make sure you have sufficient human personnel to field the number of callers (or outsource this service to a reputable firm). If you have hold music, make it pleasant and not overly repetitive.
- Make customer calls your main priority. We may not remember good customer service, but we always remember poor customer service. Every call matters. If your conversation breaks down and things remain unresolved, there’s a real chance you’ll lose that customer.
- Be natural. Stay positive. Your customers are people like you, and will appreciate a natural, conversational approach. Communication that feels scripted is off putting and so is negativity. It pays to be positive whenever you can be. You won’t be able to satisfy every complaint, but everyone appreciates being listened to, and a sincere apology means a lot.
Another good way to develop an effective customer communication strategy is through email marketing.
A regular email to existing clients and warm leads can be very valuable, if only to remind people that you’re there and available.
Keep them short and to the point, focusing on things that your customers will genuinely want to know about.
Perhaps you’re keeping them up to date about your latest products and special offers, or perhaps you’re just sharing entertaining material that will make them see you as a friend.
This is a long game – don’t expect instant measurable results every time you send one out.
The golden rule is, don’t be a pest. Always make it clear how the recipient can unsubscribe – and make every effort to ensure they don’t want to, by sending emails that put a smile on their face.
PR lets you tell your story, promote your business and become a leader in your sector.
You can create your own content or use a trusted professional, but how do you make the best of it in a multimedia world?
You can use PR to highlight positive customer reactions and great reviews.
You can also spread a message of improvement to counter negative issues or complaints.
Either way, customer service and PR have never been more closely aligned, mainly because of social media and online communication.
Here are some areas to explore further:
The latest trends. Keep up with hot topics in your industry. Try to focus on something new and exciting that you can become known for. It could make your press releases newsworthy and interesting for journalists. Features such as Google Alerts can be useful for spotting trends.
Social media. Many social media channels could make a great space for your PR effort, and they’re largely free too. Well targeted posts and blogs across social media can capture consumer attention and build your profile: especially if they’re fun, quirky and honest.
Dealing with complaints. You need to be ready for complaints and negative press. The best way to approach them is honestly, efficiently and transparently. Online, you should post a response straight away, and then contact your customer privately to resolve the issue. The important thing is to tell the whole story, say how you’re going to correct the problem and stay positive.
Communication through advertising
A big part of your comms strategy is realised through advertising and promotion.
This can be expensive, but there are plenty of ways to get a significant return on your investment.
- Google AdWords. By carefully targeting your message and using Search Engine Optimisation [SEO], you can get lots of attention from the right people.
- Facebook advertising. Advertising on Facebook can be very cost effective, allowing you to reach exactly the kind of people you want to, and build up a database of potential customers.
- Articles. Why not submit an article on a topic that interests or concerns your customers? There are lots of good websites that host external articles and they usually allow you to include links to your company website.
- Bloggers. You might want to find the most influential and popular bloggers in your industry and ask them to review your products and services. This kind of endorsement has real credibility amongst potential customers.
- Local listings. Don’t overlook free services such as Google Places or Yahoo Local. It’s easy to sign up and means that more people making local searches will find your business.
- Flyers. Designing and printing a flyer needn’t be expensive. You probably have the resources to do most of the work in-house or through personal contacts. Distribution is also simple and inexpensive.
Some useful tips
Before you choose the advertising and promotion routes that suit your business best, you need to think about your goals and how to measure the success of your campaigns.
Your goals. These are the foundations for all your advertising and promotional messages. It’s about what are you trying to achieve. Are you launching something brand new, raising your profile or entering a new market?
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs will help you measure the success of your advertising. You need to decide what defines success for your business: will it be increased sales, positive consumer reaction, or more leads to follow up?
Expert help. It’s tempting to take on all aspects of your advertising yourself. But to make your messages really stand out, you might like to consider professional copywriting and design support. There is usually a network of experienced freelancers to contact who can help to make your campaign memorable.
Part of your comms strategy is about talking with other people in your market.
You can use networking to keep in touch with other businesses. It’s a great way to make new contacts and find good suppliers and partners.
Events. Here’s a perfect way to network with relevant and likeminded business contacts. Keep an eye out for events that are related to your particular market or industry.
Be confident. You should try and start discussions at a network event. Don’t wait for someone to approach you. Perhaps try to join a larger group discussion rather than just approaching one person.
Speak out. Speaking at a conference or similar event is a perfect way of getting your message across to a relevant, receptive audience. You should think about this as part of your communication strategy.
Talk to your accountant about how much of your budget should be allocated to your comms strategy.